An Endzeitgeist.com review
The OSR-version of this module clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD,1 page back cover, leaving us with 19 pages, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.
All right, so, first things first – this is the second of James Thomas’ modules dealing with the frontier’s region of Ravenreach. The module focuses on a very Borderlands-ish feel and should slot seamlessly into such regions. Of course, you can also use it in the Lost Lands-setting without any hassle. The module is intended for 4-6 characters of 4th to 7th level – a well-rounded group is strongly recommended. The module does feature read-aloud boxed text, and e.g. does come with extra boxes for looking through keyholes, creatures bursting through furniture and the like – kudos! The rules-system used herein would be Swords &Wizardry (S&W), which is based on 0e, and the adventure ultimately can thus easily be converted to other OSR rules systems.
While this module does benefit greatly from being ran as the follow-up to “Menace in Ravenreach”, the adventure does feature several adventure hooks that allow it to be used as a stand-alone adventure. While the players will be slightly less invested in the proceedings, the module does not require exposition dumps or the like to catch them up – in a way, it behaves very much like a second episode, as it assumes that the PCs return to Ravenreach after being absent for a while. Nice: The OSR-version makes use of the room freed by requiring less rules language for optional encounters
Genre-wise, this module offers a dungeon, but its central premise is that of an infiltration – in the way that most such modules will devolve into fighting; the module very much assumes that your group won’t be Stealth-ing through the materials. The adventure also certainly has a touch of irreverence and very dry humor – I know the author doesn’t live in Britain, but I’m not sure regarding nationality; the humor? Pitch-perfect. And n, this is not a funny-haha-module, nor is it gonzo, but it does have plenty of scenes that can be funny at the table. Very subdued and subtle – I like it.
The module includes three nice, mundane/alchemical items – one type of toxin that helps deal with a specific monster defensive ability, and two means of delivering this substance. This does add a nice tactical angle here. Speaking of which: As a nice bonus, the full-color maps (with grids and scale noted) are included as player-friendly, key-less versions as well – and yes, they’re full color. Two of the maps use a 10 ft.-grid, another a 5-ft.-grid.
All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS, Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
So, while the party was busy adventuring, Master Minder has enacted his master plan (pardon the bad pun) and seized control of Ravenrock – with the Baron geass’d into essentially an imprisoned vegetable, he put a simulacrum of the Baron, one subservient to his whims, in charge. See what I mean regarding capabilities? Anyhow, he has managed to do so without arousing overt suspicion, though his lockdown of the keep Ravenrock does raise some eyebrows. Worse, his experiments with troll bi-livers have yielded fruit, and thus, the keep’s charmed guard captain and his men now have a serious case of immortalities – i.e. they regenerate. If nobody stops Minder, things’ll look grim indeed. Enter the party of stalwart heroes.
Via one of the hooks provided, the party will need to get inside the keep and stop the nasty wizard’s plans – and thankfully, there is a convenient means of ingress, which will be shared with the party as the primary hook: There is an all but forgotten cheese cave that was abandoned when the sewage system of the keep started making it…well, disgusting. You can’t see it from the keep, and only the family of the erstwhile cheese-maker knows about it, knowing it colloquially as the “Raven’s Arse” – and it’s up that metaphorical rump that the party will attempt to secure access to the keep. Told you this had some dry humor.
Which does bring me to the perhaps most pronounced weakness of the module: While access via this brief dungeon is the intended route, the issue of PCs charming/sneaking/flying etc. into the keep is mentioned, and the GM is encouraged to point the players towards the dungeon. I get why. And yet, it represents a serious lost chance – the keep begs to be an infiltration scenario, it really does. However, there is no summary of the total inhabitants and most likely rooms anywhere, nor is there information on watch shifts and the like. The module teases a freeform, sandbox infiltration and then goes the safe route, telling you to urge your players to use the dungeon. With a single page, at the very most, this module could have had all the necessary information to allow for a truly free-form experience with a variety of vectors. You can still easily run the module as such with a bit of work – but you’ll need to map the vicinity of the keep (since no map of the surrounding area is included), and you’ll have to piece together the number of available characters, etc. This is work that is a) unnecessary, and b), ultimately detracts somewhat from what this module feels like it is set up to be.
In a way, the whole infiltration angle is ultimately just an excuse to delve into the dungeon, and treat the keep like one. This is, once more, not something that makes the module bad, but it most assuredly is an exceedingly puzzling decision, considering that the adventure has all the pieces in place to go that route. This structural decision also extends to a degree to the keep itself, making it behave a bit more like a dungeon than I would have liked. Particularly in the old-school version for S&W, this does feel like an unfortunate oversight when contrasted with comparable modules.
That being said, the dungeon that is here? It is not a place that will have your players grumble for playing it – it is genuinely interesting. Aforementioned Raven’s Arse, as it turns out, has become the home of filth fairies, and the first part of the dungeon, where we explore the sewage system, is genuinely icky and hilarious.
the modifications are this helpful. This part of the dungeon also ties in with the region’s history and the legend of the dragon slain – one combat encounter features the immortal ire of the dragon, and the fairies have used bones and the like to generate some funny vistas. The filth fairies are presented as a new creature in the OSR-version.
Obviously, the main meat of the module will thus be covered by the party exploring the dungeon of the keep and the keep itself; the well-designed component of the module is reflected here in traps and the like – it is hard, but generally fair. It should also be noted that, from holding ells springing open to the labs themselves, the module does a good job blending themes and providing variety within a given adventure. Obviously, the PCs will have to defeat Master Minder (who’ll most likely have prepared a devastating ambush with his troll bi-liver enhanced super-soldiers), rescue the Baron and depose of the imposter-simulacrum to bring peace back to the region – but easier said than done…the wizard does have a pretty neat ambush ready…
Editing and formatting are excellent on a formal and rules language level. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column full-color standard, including the usual amount of lots of text per page; locked door DCs are noted in the room headers, if applicable, which is a great way to handle that. The pdf does feature a couple of really nice full-color artworks, and I certainly appreciate the full-color maps, particularly the inclusion of a full set of player-friendly maps. Kudos! The IndieGoGo-version offered token in b/w and color – cool! I am not sure if those components are included in the retail iteration.
James Thomas’ second foray to Ravenreach is a module I actually enjoyed more than the first one in many ways; he seems to have found his own distinct voice, and the execution of the challenges herein is great. Jeff Harkness does a great job converting the module to S&W, and all in all, the adventure holds up. However, system-immanently, the module loses one of its most pervasive strengths in this iteration – the system simply doesn’t offer as much tactical options, and since there are less rules to finetune, this impressive aspect is simply not there. Conversely, OSR-adventures do tend to assume that the players use their brains, that they can approach a challenge from various angles, and particularly in this context, the module’s baseline of railroading the PCs away from other means of ingress, ultimately, hurts the adventure. In this iteration, my final verdict can’t exceed 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo – provided your players can stomach that. If not, round down. If you have the luxury of being able to choose your system, I’d suggest getting the version for a more complex rules-set instead.